ICT, Energy, and Japan's Earthquake/Tsunami
The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 and its tsunami had a huge impact on the country's ICT infrastructure, much of which is still being felt by businesses and consumers. Here is an update on the information and insights we have collected about data centers, communications networks, e-devices, and other ICT topics.
Global consulting company Accenture announced in March 2013 that it "…has been awarded a contract to create the strategic plan to help develop the University of Aizu Revitalization Center. The plan includes construction of a technology lab on the university campus as well as support for projects focused on rebuilding Fukushima as a technology leader. Accenture’s plan calls for the lab design to begin this year, with construction expected to be completed in the spring of 2015. When completed, the lab will feature a next generation data center, an efficient, high-performance center that will consume about 40 percent less electricity than traditional data centers." Telecom Asia notes that "The Revitalization Center was established to aid recovery of the area following the [earthquake]." A September release from Accenture announces that the company has been awarded a contract work on the design the ICT laboratory, itself.
Japan Trends noted a year later, "On the back of electricity concerns in Japan last summer as a result of the Fukushima disaster, we have seen a growing amount of innovation in the energy sector appealing to a much more energy conscious consumer." It cites Sony's demonstration of a wireless communication and authentication systems for connecting e-device users with power supplies. Sony's video suggests the ability of consumers to purchase renewable energy for their e-gear. Japan Trends wryly observes that the system could "discourage those who nurse a single small cup of coffee for hours on end whilst sucking on the electricity taking up the space and working away in a busy coffee shop."
NTT calls its planned cloud data center "one of the largest data centers in the Tokyo metropolitan area, boasting 22,000 square meters of floor space capable of accommodating some 3,000 server racks." We typically would have focused on, "A high 1.2 PUE rating will be achieved by using a water-cooled air conditioner with high energy efficiency, rotary UPS with low electricity loss, cooling system using outdoor air to reduce electricity consumption, and highly efficient electrical facilities." ICT facilities' geo-risks are gaining awareness, as in this case and an earlier one of a data center threatened by a volcano, so we will further note that the facility will incorporate "High-level countermeasures for disasters…Seismic-isolation architecture capable of withstanding even the 9.0-magnitude earthquake experienced in Japan in March 2011 can reduce seismic shocks to one-fifth of maximum force for minimized effect on the structure housing servers and customer equipment. The site, built on stable, hard ground, is 10 km from Tokyo Bay and 1.5 km from the closest river. Flood-prevention measures protect against rainstorms, tsunami and storm surge."
Japan's Nomura Research Institute noted the main electricity-saving measures taken at data centers following the crisis:
- Upgrading of air-conditioning equipment to energy-saving types;
- Reduction of electricity necessary for air conditioning through procurement of cold water from district heating and cooling (DHC) suppliers using gas facilities; and
- Reduction of lighting equipment (restrained use) and adjustment of air conditioning in places other than computer rooms.
(Using district heating/cooling facilities for data centers already exists in Europe, particularly when waste heat can be returned to the district for use by others.)
High-efficiency server company Supermicro notes in October 2011, "Due to the critical importance of data services, the Japanese government excludes Data Centers from current power conservation measures." This may be bad long-term policy, as necessity is the mother of invention in Green ICT as in every endeavor. Super Micro says it has "worked with Japan's #1 search provider and data centers to spec and donate high-efficiency computing technologies for a site dedicated to connecting the Japanese community with live status updates. The Shinsai site ( tr. Quake Disaster) has since grown to a central portal for news and community building activities supporting charity and relief efforts for disaster victims." Supermicro's "Keeping it Green" page.
Okayama blogger Gabi Greve wrote in July that Microsoft Japan said "…that only 24 percent of consumers and 19 percent of companies have taken measures to cut such electricity use. Microsoft said the biggest power cuts can be made by adjusting monitor settings. It said reducing monitor brightness cuts power consumption by 23 percent, and that also shortening the period before the monitor automatically goes into sleep mode increases the reduction to 30 percent. The firm said that carrying out such measures on the more than 22-million computers in the area served by Tokyo Electric Power Company could save 350,000 kilowatts."
Japan's term for energy conservation is "setsuden". The current energy crisis has given it renewed visibility, including for personal e-gear. Japan Times reported in May, "Individuals are being urged to…turn down the brightness on their TV screens. Arakawa Ward in Tokyo is planning to hold a…contest in which residents can win setsuden products, such as a strap enabling one to recharge a cell phone with solar power, if they can demonstrate use of 20 percent less electricity than in the same month the year before."
Setsuden iPhone App
Telecomasia.net reported in March: …the [Japanese] Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry…stated that 11,400 mobile base stations were inoperative…Since the earthquake, significant progress has been made towards repairing the damage…NTT DoCoMo, which reported that 6,720 of its mobile base stations were inoperative on March 12, announced that only 2,130 were still inoperative on March 15…KDDI initially had 3,800 base stations out of service, which it has since reduced to 1,500, while Softbank has reduced its number of inoperative base stations from 3,786 to 1,157…Progress in repairing mobile communications has been faster than for fixed communications. This may be because operators have prioritized the mobile network…Fixed communications have been vulnerable to the rolling power blackouts across the country, which have been caused by power shortages arising from damage to power plants." (In developing economies, off-grid mobile base stations are increasingly powered by on-site renewables, although diesel is still common.)
Four months later, APF reports, "Japan's largest mobile phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, plans to start powering its cellphone tower network with renewable energy such as solar, wind or biomass, the company said Friday…the move could also help protect the system against widespread blackouts…'In the wake of a major earthquake, a power outage of many hours would disrupt our service... Our plan is also meant to be an anti-quake measure, in addition to the environmental concerns.'"
Media facilities still rely heavily on tape, even though many media facilities strive for a tapeless workflow. Tape remains a cost-effective media for a the acquisition and archiving of high-definition (HD) video, which features high bit rates and large storage capacities. Of particular concern was Sony's HDCAM SR tape, favored by film and high-end television productions, when tape production was halted due to earthquake damage. Industry publications were reporting shortages in March, but Sony has announced that its factories will resume full production in July Interestingly, the ICT industry as a whole is becoming interested in high-bandwidth tape for Tier 3 data storage, as tape consumes significantly less energy than spinning disks. (Related: Sony's HDCAM SR recycling program.)
Japan's electricity shortage is also focusing attention on edge devices. CNET reveals (June 2011) that one way Fujitsu is dealing with the electricity crisis is "setting laptops to run off battery power during peak energy usage times." People have been talking about using EVs as a form of grid storage*; maybe we should be thinking about laptops the same way.
On the consumer side, CNC World reports (June 2011),"Toshiba put out a new model of television, which is rechargeable…can save up to 18 percent electricity of what traditional ones consume [and a] battery attached inside can support the television work up to three hours without power…But the television wasn't for the Japan market at the beginning…This product was initially designed for those Southeast Asian countries like India and Indonesia where power shortage is a common seen problem. But after the earthquake in Japan, as the energy-saving awareness rises, [Toshiba] boosted the development process for this product and introduced it in Japan as well."
Rajesh Nair writes in his Greener Data Blog (May 2011), "[The Japanese] government has mandated a 15% reduction in power consumption for corporations…Several data center colocation companies who cannot resolve this power issue have already informed their tenants that there will be brownouts during the summer and they should look for other data centers for guaranteed uptime. With some 80% of data center capacity in the greater Tokyo area, there aren’t many easy options…Some of these data centers may move out of the country, but it is not an option for many. Implementing energy efficiency measures may be the only way out for these data center operators."
* Less than two months after we originally noted this, Nissan introduced in Japan a system for enabling the batteries of its Leaf automobile to serve as a home power storage device.